The Church were first seen in ‘The Time of Angels’, an order of faith that had become a military organisation. Members held ranks of Bishop, Cleric, Verger and Colonel, wearing uniforms and wielding weapons.
Considering how well they worked with the Doctor in that story it was a surprise to find that they were allied with the Silence and dedicated to killing the Doctor in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’. Forced to retreat from their asteroid base they are far from defeated.
Here we have a powerful organisation, a vast reach and the ability to be both allies and enemies for time travellers. Variety is provided by the numerous internal factions, from the Anglican Marines to the Headless Monks.
A typical Church member appears to be focused, using their faith to give them the courage they need to face the challenges they meet. They are ruled by Heretical Laws but when not on the front line they have a range of personalities, as displayed by the couple in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and, of course, Lorna Bucket.
In ‘The Time of Angels’ they perform the same function as UNIT soldiers, sent in to eliminate an alien threat, in this case an escaped Weeping Angel. It makes a certain amount of sense that it would a religious order that would be tasked with this quest.
Government funded military organisations would concern themselves with areas of space they control. Expending resources to track monsters across the depths of space is tactically disadvantageous, risking damaging the loyalty of soldiers sent on bug hunts.
Here the Church can frame this as a crusade against evil, the soldiers motivated by their faith. They are not concerned with conquest or amassing power, just upholding the beliefs of the Church and protecting its members.
This makes them suited for bug-hunt adventures on distant worlds. It can raise questions about faith, especially if the player characters view it as a suicide mission. Can they understand why someone would die for what they believe in?
The Church also allows for the exploration of blind faith. If soldiers are ordered to kill an alien race that the player characters know are innocent will they obey? Can the player characters get them to question the situation for themselves?
To borrow the situation from ‘The God Complex’ what would happen if the Church clerics encountered a threat that preyed on their faith or their beliefs? It could take the player characters as outsiders to save them.
In ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ they are waging a war against the Doctor. We can take it that this is because they wish to prevent the question from being answered. We don’t know what will happen when it is but it would appear that the Church believe that it will impact negatively on them.
It isn’t likely that player characters will find the Church launching a crusade against them personally but this does allow us to see the nastier side of the organisation. It is easy to imagine the Church carrying out religious crusades, wiping out non-believers.
Historically religious organisations have gained great influence over political powers. Adventures can be based around their manipulation of governments and planets, changing laws and even persecuting members of a society.
Corruption isn’t unheard of in religion and could very well exist in the Church. With Heaven apparently being something that can be categorised (the Gamma Forest is Heaven Neutral for example) can wealthy merchants buy their way into the afterlife? Would a Cleric take advantage of someone’s desire for forgiveness?
The Headless Monks are an example of the lengths fanatical members will go. Advanced technology allows them to function without their head and one has to wonder what other wonders of science have been used to push the limits of clerics faith.
What does the existence of the Church say about the state of the universe in the 52nd century? People become more spiritual during times of strife suggesting that human society is going through a dark time.
Are there Churches on hundreds of worlds? Does the money collected from the congregation finance the organisation? On some worlds becoming a cleric might be a sign of faith, on another it could be a mandatory draft with a set tour of duty. On other worlds having someone join the Church might absolve the whole family of sin.
It could be interesting to run a campaign focused on the Church. It would combine elements of a UNIT campaign with spaceships and alien worlds. You can present the Church in a wholly positive light or explore some of the dark themes.
For players who like to be told what to do with a clear objective this has lots of advantages. The Church will send them where the action is, give them the tools they need to defeat their enemy and patch them up if they get hurt.
They defeat evil because that is what the Church wants them to do. They might also take the opportunity to spread their faith through space and time. Human history is also full of historical events that could resonate deeply with a Cleric, from the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire to the Witch Hunts of Salem.
Religion is a sensitive subject and any games master should make sure that his players are comfortable with the introduction of the Church and any resulting topics it might raise. Ultimately the game should be about having fun, rather than raising philosophical issues.